Brewing with Coconut

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Like most beers with an ingredient other than hops, malt, water or yeast, coconut beers stir up a lot of emotion in the beer enthusiast’s talking circles. Coconut may have more of a reason for this than most other flavor enhancers and that’s because the oils in coconut can quickly ruin any head retention you’ve fought so hard to build into your beer. But, if done well, you can find a balance between stable foam on your brew and great coconut flavor.

The Different Ways To Get Coconut Into Your Beer

Coconut has seen a rise in popularity over the past few years and it seems there is no end to how many ways you can find it in stores. However, the three most common forms of coconut you’ve probably seen around that are good for adding flavor to your beer are chips, extract and milk.
While I personally haven't tried adding coconut milk to my own homebrews, I’ve tasted them and have seen people speak their praises in their own recipes. I’ve enjoyed the flavor but we use coconut milk in a lot of recipes at home, and I find it hard to put the same base for our curry soups into my beers. For me, it just doesn’t “sound” appealing, even though I know it can work. After writing this article, that is probably my next stop.
The next area is coconut extract. Some folks prefer to use this rather than coconut chips in their beer because it can be much easier than working with chips. You can buy the extract pre-made or it is fairly easy to make yourself a day or two ahead of your brewing session. Basically, you roast the chips, sweetened is usually preferred for this method, then stew them down in some boiling water and filter the chips out to get your extract. Pop it in the fridge and add to your brew during the boil or secondary. You can also create an extract by soaking chips in vodka or grain. If you want to take it a step further, you can try some fat washing. This is where you take your first round extract, freeze the fat out of it and then harvest your extract sans fatty-fat-fat-pants.
The area I’ll be talking most about in this article is my preferred method, unsweetened coconut chips. The reason I prefer to use chips is because I feel it creates the most natural “coconutty” flavor you can get. You can buy pre-chipped coconut in most grocery stores these days but be sure to check the label for the expiration date. I’ve seen several bags at different stores that were well past the date, bought and used the outdated chips, and have been disappointed with the flavor in the beer. So be on your guard! Also check for preservatives, which could inhibit fermentation later on.
I prefer to store my chips in the fridge until use. You could also go the Castaway route and cut and chip fresh coconut but I don’t find that you get enough of a flavor difference to justify the level of effort. But I’ve been called wrong before. And I have ignored those statements before. And I will continue to do so!

Sweetened vs Unsweetened Coconut Chips

Like I said, my preference is to use unsweetened chips. Again, I find you get a more subtle and natural flavor with the unsweetened variety. I also prefer a beer a bit on the dry side which typically leads to subtle flavors having an easier time standing out. Adding sweetened chips after primary and not giving a proper secondary before bottling or kegging leads to more residual sugar in your beer and sweetens it. If you don’t mind a bit sweeter beer or waiting longer to put your beer on tap, this may be the route you want to take.

Roasting vs Not Roasting Coconut Chips

There are several reasons to roast or not to roast. The main things you want to consider are: 1. What type of beer profile are you looking for, and 2. How much head retention are you trying to save?
From a flavor profile perspective you can imagine a nice toasted coconut works well with a malt forward beer, where a hoppy or lighter style beer might very well be complimented by and unroasted sweet coconut flavor. Roasting the coconut will help to enhance the balance of those toasty malts whereas leaving it in its raw state allows for the flavors and natural sugars to be more present.
Be aware, however, a non-roasted coconut is going to also retain more coconut oil. The challenge there lies in how much total oil are you putting in your beer. Oil destroys head retention. It does this by creating an oil slick on the top of your beer and inhibiting the formation of bubbles.
Realistically even if it’s raw and you don’t add too much you should be fine with head retention. But, if you’re into little to no foam and strong natural coconut profile go for not roasting it. You’ll probably be pleased. However, too much oil in a beer can make it go rancid quickly. So drink up!

How To Roast Your Coconut

My preference with roasting coconut is low and slow. You’d be surprised by how quickly it can go from lightly toasted to crispy charred like that dude in Beetlejuice (don’t read this line 3 times) who couldn’t quit smoking. You normally don’t get a warning about the charring! So I like to set the oven to 200 and toast from anywhere to 20-30 minutes until I hit something that looks like the below picture. I’ve done it at 400 before and was able to get the same color in a much shorter window, but I’ve also been distracted by shiny objects and Val Kilmer tweets long enough that I end up with Beetlejuice guys on the pan (OK, seriously don’t read this out loud!).

When Do You Add Coconut to Your Beer

I have tested this on a raspberry coconut porter in several different ways. They include
  • Mash
  • Boil
  • Secondary and boil
  • Secondary
  • Mash, boil and secondary
So now you know I like this recipe and have some time on my hands. But, I can say the one method that stood out the best, with the least effort used across the brew session is plain old secondary. But, you'll also see a ton of recipes out there where people do multiple additions. I’ve found keeping it simple works well.

However, with that test I did use the same quantities properly proportioned across additions. So for a five gallon batch I find that 16 ozs of roasted/toasted? coconut works well to give the flavor I’m looking for. I leave it in the secondary for about a week until I rack it. But realistically, coconut is a flavor that requires some fine tuning based on the freshness, amount of roast and other ingredients in your beer but especially your personal taste preference. Coconut and coffee is a much different thing than coconut and raspberry. So have fun testing your coconut style!
I just brewed a coconut porter. It's sitting in secondary right now with 16oz of shaved coconut in muslin bags. Also toasted it to rid the oils. I'm going to sample tonight but hopefully we should be kegging come Sunday! Good read man!
I like to also use bagged pre-toasted coconut in one of my house porters..I soak the toasted coconut in a large mason jar with coconut flavored vodka to give it a bit more coconut "kick" and toss it into the keg when I rack the beer. Make sure you bag it or put a diptube screen on your keg or you will get a plugged diptube for sure. I have not had much luck getting coconut to come out in the beer as much as I want it to any other way.
I did a 5 gallon batch with 2 lbs of sweetened chips soaked in coconut vodka. Oh and i added maltodextrine during the boil. It was awesome. I got another batch going right now. Going to skip the malto and use unsweetened coconut.
Wondering, is it absolutely necessary to transfer to secondary? Of all the batches I've made thus far I've left in one vessel for the duration of the fermentation and conditioning. I'm planning on brewing the Choconut Porter that was featured in the latest Zymurgy edition and if there aren't any significant drawbacks, I'd prefer to add the Cocoa nibs, vanilla bean and coconut to the primary vessel after fermentation has died down. Appreciate any thoughts or experiences.
Nice writeup... I chuckle though, because you guys are saying 16oz of coconut, while I'm over here wondering if I can buy 10 pound bags to put in mine...I really really like coconut.
You are in violation of the Reinheitsgebot, you will confess, you will be judged, you will be punished, you will suffer, you will atone.
Freaking coconut in beer, is this what 4,000 years of brewing has gotten us? Mango? Coconut? Orange flippin zest and grated cinnamon sticks?!
That's what makes craft beer, crafty...no? I haven't tried in any of my beers yet, heck the most addons I've tried so far is oak and bourbon. I'm going to give this a shot on my on one of my next brew.
For a 10 gallon batch of robust coconut porter, I use 3.75 lbs of unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted and blotted with paper towels, in the mash. Once the kegs are carbed, I split 24 oz prepared the same way into fine mesh bags and add one to each keg. The beer transforms overnight! Make sure your porter recipe is bold!
Oils will certainly kill head retention! I haven't used coconut in my beers, but I have used black walnuts in the mash of a brown ale. I smash the nut meat in paper bags beforehand to extract as much oil as possible and have had decent success retaining head.
Worth a try?
Yup - it's called variety, progress. Why be shackled to an 500 year old German food law that is horribly out of date? Most people don't care about it anymore - heck, it restricts the use of CO2 - and it's time the law be updated or outright abolished.
My comment is mostly facetious.
You can get so many flavors with yeast, malt, and hops alone - not to mention water chemistry; it just seems like too many brewers are being aimlessly creative.
I make a coconut porter every year or so. Just toast and dump in the primary after fermentation is done. Frank's right about the toasting however - it goes from fresh coconut white, to ashes in a blink of an eye. Keep a close eye on it.
For me, I can only drink at most a pint every few days. It's good, but in small doses. My sister disagrees - she'll fight tooth and nail for the last bottle or last pull of from the keg. She loves the stuff, and it's required to be available when she's in town...
I put a few vanilla beans (pre-soaked in Vodka or Bourbon) in with the coconut as well. And like woo_pig, I often add a little (10-16 ounces) maltodextrine in the boil.
Really interesting article, and so much insight! The addition of coconut can either go well or horribly wrong, it seems, but its worth the risk! When it comes out well, it comes out really really well. While not everyone is a coconut enthusiast, a good coconut beer can change all that. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Not to get off subject of the coconut ,but about your black walnut beer addition....we have 4 pecan trees on our property and I am really just getting into AG brewing , going for my 3rd batch soon. BUT, I am curious as to how to get a Pecan Ale from my own trees. Our first nut yield since buying our house in October we got over 185 lbs of pecans and theres still more . Thanks in advance
I brewed a Belgian quad and split it into 2 secondaries. In one, I did 1 lb toasted coconut. In the second, I did 1 lb toasted coconut which I soaked for a week in 99 proof Malibu coconut.
The toasted flavor is different than what I was after, which was more of a raw/sweet taste. With that said, POW BAM coconut! Super coconut nose, heavy flavor, and sweet. The rum soaked is better by far!
My wife and I got the chance to drink a beer called Last Snow (Blue Pants Brewery), it is a coconut vanilla and either a porter or stout...anyway it was flavorful and delicious . I'd love to try and recreate something like that. Thanks for the article.
I'd like to re-create Blue Pants "Last Snow" which is a chocolate coconut porter my wife and I tried at the Beer Hog near Birmingham,AL. Wondering after reading your post , did you make it and how were the results?
I brewed a Coconut Wheat IPA. Its conditioning in the keg now and I think its going to be good. For this recipe I used bulk-aisle unsweetened coconut chips but only in the boil. However during fermentation I noticed dark 3-4 silver dollar sized circles in the krausen. If this was an infection, it would be my first but I'm wondering if this could have been oil from the coconut that rendered out in the boil and surfaced at the top? I didn't add any to dry hop as I planned because I was alarmed but the beer has a hint of coconut (I'd use a bit more next time) and taste pretty good in the keg after about 1 week.
My beer ended up a toasted coconut chocolate coffee porter . the coconut amount all told was 2 lbs.starting in mash ,another addition in boil and the last in secondary (about 1/3 in each step) the resulting flavor after bottling and some age ... faint to none. I think to get a reasonable amount of flavor one would need to add almost 1 lb coconut/gallon in secondary only. Its still a good beer but the amount of toasted coconut flavor wasnt nearly enough to tell its in there.